How our sporting language enriches, supports and protects us.
It’s hard not to feel a sense of pride when talking the language of game shooting. Brace, fore-end, eye-wipe, dogging-in, pegs, beaters and drives, our sport is bursting with words and phrases we learn, treasure and proudly hand down to those who follow in our footsteps. There are some words and phrases we’d rarely use in everyday life, ones where eyebrows would be raised if we used them in polite company and even ones that have been adopted by the outside world to be used as metaphors in everything from business to film. We all know them when we hear them, don’t we?
Earlier this year I was having a conversation with one of our long-standing contributors about how to tell Guns — namely the human variety — and shotguns apart in our articles. How was it, the contributor rightly argued, that readers are supposed to know who and what we’re talking about when we mention a gun who had stuck to their guns when one of the other guns had passed a sarcastic comment about another gun’s guns? In speech it makes perfect sense but down on paper, well, he had a point and fingers crossed I haven’t confused you further. We altered our style sheet soon after.
In game shooting, as in life, languages change, whether we want them to or not. To expand on the Gun versus gun example, every magazine or newspaper has a house style, and even though ours hasn’t changed a great deal over the years there are nevertheless words we prefer not to use when talking about game shooting, even those not necessarily related to the sport. It’s not because there’s anything wrong with them, it’s just that there’s a danger of using them too much or not quite in the right way, thus losing their original meaning and occasionally risking cheapening the sport itself.
That said, this is where the magic of our sporting language comes alive because this is where words and phrases mean different things to different generations. Debate certainly gets going when one talks about high birds: a high bird for some Guns is one they know they can’t hit; others see them as a means to challenge their shooting abilities, with the utmost respect to the quarry of course. Whatever the distance or even the speed, does it help when they are referred to as screamers, cloud ticklers or Exocet missiles, given they are nothing of the kind?
If I may be so bold as to tread on thinner ice, what to you marks someone out a “true countryman”? Does that person have to have been born and raised in the countryside or simply have the countryside’s best interests at heart, even if he cannot name every tree he sees before him on a shoot? With so many newcomers entering the sport from a non-traditional route, must the term “true countryman” change with it? Surely your urban-based sportsman who has come into shooting later in life is just as worthy of the title if their values tally with the finest ambassadors of our sport who have only ever breathed country air. As a sport, if we are to continue to thrive we cannot be too precious about how we define ourselves. I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Our language can also help us to challenge those who are against us or those who have been influenced by misinformation. Many is the tale I’ve been told at elevenses about an opponent of our sport being stopped in their tracks because they’ve used the wrong phrase/ context of sporting terminology, and it has been pointed out to them that, if they are guilty of ignorance of sporting terminology, what other holes might there be in their argument? There’s a saying that ‘those who know, know’ and as long as you know your game shooting language is there to help, enrich and protect you, then you won’t go far wrong.
Our sport is bursting with words and phrases we learn, treasure and proudly hand down to those who follow.